Spiritual: January 2010 Archives

I'm enjoying reading Christopher Wright's commentary on Deuteronomy. He's especially insightful on ethical matters, and he's been excellent at defending against positions that I think have needed some careful argument to address (such as the claim that the Mosaic law treats women as property). But the following quote is puzzling.

It is not surprising, then, conversely, that a whole culture that systematically denies the transcendent by excluding the reality of God from the public domain, as Western societies have been doing for generations, also turns covetous self-interest into a socioeconomic ideology, rationalized, euphemized, and idolized. Knowing full well that you cannot serve God and mammon, we have deliberately chosen mammon and declared that a person's life does consist in the abundance of things possessed. [p.86]

I'm not interested in ignoring the role that covetous self-interest plays among those whose lifestyle is all about accumulating material wealth or the fact that such self-interest might attract someone to political views that they might expect to serve that self-interest. But he's talking about a systematic denial of God that turns covetous self-interest into an ideology, so it's got to be much more thoroughgoing than just the fact that people for self-interested reasons might like views that they see as serving their self-interest. It's as if the ideology itself is caused by self-interest and would have no existence otherwise. So what ideology does he mean? Capitalism? Libertarianism? Mainstream economic conservatism? Randianism?

If any of the first three, I think he's simply mistaken. The arguments in favor of those are not selfish pursuit of mammon, at least not in the ideal case, and the view itself is not the same thing as declaring that a person's life amounts just to the abundance of things possessed. Such views are at work in our culture, but what Wright says here is confusing two separate things. It would be more on the mark if he's targeting Ayn Rand, because she explicitly did ground her view in ethical egoism, but even she wouldn't treat human nature as if it's just about material possessions, and her view isn't exactly the mainstream socioeconomic view on the right.

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